The sun crests the horizon and an explosion of white light fires through the windscreen, causing the blood in my shut eyelids to glow red. Squinting, I scrutinise the dial of my watch. Some quick mental arithmetic reveals that I’ve been sitting in the back of a car for well over six hours.
Ordinarily this would be torturous: a thrombosis-inducing contortion act that would have me staring at airliner contrails with jealousy and lust. But then the Jaguar XJL Autobiography is no ordinary vehicle.
Fashioned out of gravity-cheating aluminium, it’s pretty much the double-thick cream of the marque’s saloon crop: a steed of substance tailor-made for transporting the well-heeled.
And I can see why they like it so much. Gosh, it’s roomy back here. For as that rogue “L” in its badging suggests, this is the exclusive long-wheelbase model that packs a few extra centimetres between the front and rear axles. Which means that even a lanky six-footer such as myself can stretch out with impunity.
And then there are the seats.
The last time I played passenger in the aft quarters on a trip down to Cape Town my buttocks were slowly compressed to a bruised pulp. Nerves lost their ability to transmit impulses. The liberal use of anti-inflammatories was mandatory.
Not here, not today. Jaguar has fitted this XJ with electrically adjustable seats that shift or recline to meet your skeletal needs. The cushions are heated should you get cold, and ventilated if you get hot.
Fancy a massage, sir? If memory serves, there were no less than four different options for pneumatically powered back pummeling. It’s been about five years since I’ve been this intimate with something other than the sharp edge of my bedroom doorframe. It was bliss.
Unfortunately it had to come to an end. After filling up at Colesberg it was now my turn to take over the helm.
From the sharp end of the XJL things are slightly different. While the seats may be equally cosseting, the low-slung dashboard digs annoyingly into your knees thanks to limited steering wheel adjustment. The column simply doesn’t extend outwards enough, which is a bit of a bother if you have legs like a giraffe. So no matter how much you play with the buttons, your driving position will always feel slightly compromised.
Other than that life is peachy. The fancy TFT dials are easy to read, the switchgear intuitive. Jaguar’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system may be getting long in the tooth (there’s no Apple CarPlay here), but at least you don’t need to take your eyes off the road to adjust the temperature of the climate control — unlike in a Volvo S90.
There is also one of the best sound systems I have ever listened to inside a car. Armed with 26 speakers, the 1300-watt Meridian Reference is the stuff of filthy audiophile fantasy. Kind of like switching from VHS to HD video, it reveals details and nuances you never knew existed.
Of course there were times when another sound took over. The N1 is home to great rolling herds of pantechnicons. To leapfrog two or three of them in one fell swoop requires the stoking of that supercharged V8 engine lurking in front of your feet. I like this motor. A lot. It will idle quietly at 135km/h all day whilst returning 8.3l/100km. Yet stomp on the accelerator and it will bellow past the 200km/h mark in the time it takes to read this sentence.
Despite its size and heft the XJL is ridiculously rapid in a straight line. The scary thing is that you don’t feel it. Thanks to the high levels of insulation, 180km/h feels like 100km/h. So to avoid jail time, I highly recommend using the cruise control.
The day goes on. The kilometres rack up. The Free Sate morphs into a scarily brown and arid Karoo. Usually by the time I get to Touws River I am on the verge of homicidal frenzy. Yet behind the wheel of this Jaguar I’m calm and more than happy to press on to the final destination — despite being able to call a driver change.
I put this down to cabin refinement and ride quality. While road and wind noise is minimal, the trick air suspension makes short work of any asphalt irregularities. It does a stellar job in ironing out all the jitters that wear one down on a long-distance drive such as this.
What is disappointing, however, is the steering. In 2015 Jaguar introduced an electric power-assisted system into the XJ range. And it’s not very good. Not only does it feel numb and artificial, it also fails to re-centre itself from time to time. Especially when you move the wheel just off the 12-o’clock position. I would expect this from a Datsun Go, but not in a R2.7-million Jag.
Other gripes? Well the gearbox’s reactions are by no means the quickest, and the handling is, um, shall we say not exactly sporty. But then who buys a long-wheelbase luxury saloon to beat the bends of Ou Kaapse Weg? Exactly.
So with that great crimson ball now sinking into the salty drink before me it’s clear that the XJL Autobiography is all about whipping persons from one point to another in maximum comfort, pace and prestige. Whether you’re a passenger or a driver, it’s a rare breed of vehicle that makes you fall in love with the road trip all over again. And for this reason alone it remains, even after all these years since it first debuted, a very special piece of kit. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: 2017 Jaguar XJ L Autobiography
Engine: 5 000cc V8 supercharged
Power: 375kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 625Nm at 2500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.9 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Fuel: 8.6l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 264g/km (claimed)
Price: From R2 767400